I would like to offer my thoughts today of the impending transformation that lies before us in our beloved region of British Columbia—the Okanagan Valley.
As I’ve talked about in recent columns what you hear repeatedly on various news channels, our economy is undergoing a transformation driven by entrepreneurs who create opportunity for change and build new industries and services based on innovation and global perceived markets.
Because today’s economy continues to speed ahead, our institutions and tri-levels of government face significant challenges.
First, how can our governments lay out en enabling foundation now clearly needed by an entrepreneurial economy?
And second, how can more communities in regions as the Okanagan use the blueprints for that to become entrepreneurial hotspots?
My recent research has offered four general themes that I would offer you for your ponderance—finding and keeping talented people; a local culture that embraces and nurtures entrepreneurs; a healthy government-entrepreneurial atmosphere; and a focus on the unique needs of entrepreneurial ventures, particularly at start-up, or as many of my colleagues more aptly put it access to people, seed capital, information and supportive government infrastructure.
I could write a small novel on the concerns and issues raised by seasoned entrepreneurs seeking quality entry-level, management and technical personnel to join their teams to launch and seek prosperity with their new ventures.
Thorny challenges await in hiring entry-level workers I am told relative to competence and work attitudes for example.
The question posed in my investigation has been: Are they really ready to work?
Basic skills of being courteous, displaying commitment to their new job and a willingness to excel often appear to be a shortfall.
Anyone who has worked with entrepreneurs for some time becomes an expert in issues related to access to capital.
For a number of years, access to financing has been a major impediment to the launch and growth of new business.
But today, access to capital has been trumped by concerns over human capital, quality of life and other issues.
Booming capital markets have created a perverse problem of its own.
Entrepreneurs can find funding for their new ventures for the most part, but finding “smart money” from funders who can provide useful coaching and mentoring and specific industry expertise remains a challenge.
The anomaly of a current boom perception is pushing, for example, venture capitalists to make bigger deals. We are seeing fewer deals but with larger investments.
I believe it is fair to say that Okanagan entrepreneurs would be unanimous in claiming difficulties in obtaining seed capital investments in the range of $ 300,000 to $3 million. Go figure.
A significant issue with respect to building entrepreneurial communities, and one that actually inspired me to prepare this column, is the level of local institutional support provided to the entrepreneurial world.
Cost of office space, digital infrastructure are cited by some as constraints to venture launch.
The mixed opinions of local universities and colleges weighs in as an anchor in some community thought.
One group told me their concern rose from a perception of failure to provide targeted continuing education and mentoring or to participate in the local business community within the entrepreneurial realm.
Cross-training between engineering and business schools came into the discussion as a helpful need.
And a final set of issues raised concerned the role of government levels and their relationship to the entrepreneurial channel.
Most of the discussion tended to focus on whether community leaders actually “get it.”
In other words, do government bureaucratic agencies understand the unique needs and concerns of entrepreneurs?
Many do, as the value in a true and vibrant partnership between government and the private sector ought to be readily viewed.
Effectively targeted government programs and services are only one piece of the puzzle.
Smart government agencies work to ease the creation and growth of new firms in all industry sectors.
While the average citizen may simply scoff at this salutation—“I’m from government and I’m here to help”—entrepreneurs respond with downright cynicism.
There is a fundamental clash between entrepreneurs and governments.
Entrepreneurs move quickly, revel in decisions that may be criticized by others and take calculated risks.
However, entrepreneurs do understand that governments have a role to play. They facilitate capital markets, sponsor education and training, fund technology research and build and regulate the infrastructure.
So in conclusion, what makes an entrepreneurial community?
First, governments make decisions that affect entrepreneurs directly and indirectly.
They craft the overall framework in which an entrepreneur functions, such as telecommunication, transportation, environmental, bankruptcy, etc.
Directly, governments deal with an entity on an individual level such as with licensing, safety and other required permits.
We can have a few entrepreneurs shine in any community, but that doesn’t make for an entrepreneurial community. To experience or claim that title, lots of thread must be woven together with policies that support directly entrepreneurship—people, money, technology, customers, transportation a supportive environment and services. As more threads are woven, so will the community’s strength and resource base grow.
The conclusion is simply this: The secret of an entrepreneurial community is how regional development strategies and networks work together.
So let’s embrace our good fortune to be resident of a region of this province that has tremendous potential for today and the future in establishing an entrepreneurial community second to none in our nation.
Joel Young is an entrepreneurial leadership coach, educator and consultant and the founder of the Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society.